There was no hometown bias when it came to finalizing the schedule for Richmond City Baseball’s Queen Victoria Invitational.
The sixth annual event for U15 rep teams will feature its most competitive field yet and there is no guarantee the hosts will even get beyond preliminary play. The 12-team tournament gets underway Thursday night and concludes on the holiday Monday.
The host Chuckers are part of a three-team bracket that also includes the Burnaby Braves and Alberta’s Parkland Twins. The Braves have been on a tear of late in the B.C. Bantam AAA League and sit with an 11-7 record, while Parkland is the former Spruce Grove squad that reached the championship game a year ago.
In total, this year’s tournament features seven of the top eight teams in the B.C. Minor league, along with the defending champion Okotoks Black Dawgs — a Calgary area academy team.
“It’s the strongest draw we have ever had,” confirmed Chuckers manager Alex Klenmann. “Just to get out of our pool is going to be tough. The Alberta teams come here looking to play better teams in B.C. and they know they will be in a competitive situation here. Parkland represents two associations and the Okotkos basically has the pick of the entire Calgary area and will be coming here with 17 or 18 players.”
Don’t feel too sorry for the challenge that lies ahead for Richmond.
The Chuckers are already one-for-one in tournament play this season, having captured last month’s Best of the West in Kamloops that also happened to include both Alberta teams. The road to the championship was highlighted by a 3-0 semi-final win over Okotoks thanks to a no-hitter from Justin Thorsteinson.
It’s part of Richmond’s impressive 22-4 record, although Klenmann is hoping the tournament will get his team back firing on all cylinders again. The Chuckers were trounced 10-0 last week by White Rock then rebounded to sweep a home doubleheader on Sunday from Aldergrove, including a come-from-behind 7-6 game two victory.
“Their lefty threw a great game and was hitting all his spots. On the other side of the ledger, they walked a fair amount and we made a couple of mistakes,” said Klenmann of the White Rock loss. “That will happen over the long course of the season and it’s nothing huge but it hurts to lose like that.
“Our offence has gone missing a bit of late but that’s the up and down part of baseball. We always have good starts (to the season) because we prepare well. But then everyone catches up and we plateau a bit. Now it’s our job to take the next step up again.”
The Chuckers’ roster has been structured for tournament success thanks to excellent pitching depth that is required for a condensed schedule. The rotation will be set-up accordingly with Richmond taking on Parkland on Friday at 5:45 p.m., then Saturday at 2:15 p.m. against Burnaby. The plan is to have all pitchers available when the playoffs begin on Sunday morning.
“Theoretically we are built for tournament success but if we are not firing on all cylinders then it doesn’t matter,” added Klenmann. “Right now, we are a little off but this weekend is an opportunity to get a lot of arms into play and play some competitive ball.
“It’s our tournament and we want to make the playoffs.”
Quarter-final action gets underway Sunday at 11:45 a.n. with the first of four consecutive games. The semi-finals go at 9 a.m. Monday and the championship game is 2:30 p.m.
Both diamonds at Blundell Park will be in play with Richmond in action on the north field for both round-robin games.